Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Romance-conventions

Dear Author

The Big Romantic Gesture by KatiD

Today’s wonderful piece is written by KatiD of Katidom.  Kati has been reading romances for twenty five years. Her first romance was Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts.  You can find her on her website: http://www.katidom.com/ or via Twitter at  @KatiD.

There are spoilers for A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught, Warpize by Elizabeth Vaughn, Angel’s Blood by Nalini Singh in the following post. Enjoy!

Remember in the movie Say Anything when Lloyd Dobbler, broken-hearted that Diane Court had ended their relationship, stood outside her window while she was napping blasting Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes? Rather than thinking of this as creepy, stalkerish behavior, my teenage heart swooned. Imagine, a boy who will do anything to win your love. When I look back on the scene now, I still see the teenage romance of it, but also think if I’d been Diane’s parent, I’d have run him off. But my point is Lloyd standing there with the boom box is what began my lifelong love affair with the Big Romantic Gesture.

Many of my favorite romances have them: gestures so grandiose, so big that they make the reader certain that the love between the hero and heroine will last forever. After all, if they’re willing to give up everything, dare anything for love, it must be the love of a lifetime. When I started thinking about the Big Romantic Gestures that stand out most to me in my years of reading romance, there were three that came to mind.

First, in Judith McNaught’s A Kingdom of Dreams, Jennifer Merrick, a plucky young heroine is abducted from a convent and forced to marry her family’s lifelong enemy, Royce Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore. Claymore is the champion of the king, his finest weapon, and a man who lives his life on the battlefield. He certainly knows nothing of love or tenderness. And yet Jenny challenges him constantly, and bewitches him with her intelligence and her willingness to do anything to uphold her family’s honor. Soon the two find themselves falling in love until Royce kills Jenny’s brother who he thought was drawing a knife to kill him, despite giving Jenny his word that he’d not harm her family. The king convenes a tournament, and commands Royce to participate.  Royce is determined to honor his promise to not draw another drop of Merrick blood which allows Jenny’s family, also participating in the tournament, to do their best to kill him. That is until…

Through the haze of sweat and blood and pain that blurred his vision and fogged his mind, Royce thought for a moment he saw the figure of a woman running – running toward him, her uncovered hair tossing about her, glinting in the sun with red and gold. Jennifer! In disbelief, he squinted, staring, while the earsplitting thunder of the crowd rose higher and higher.

Royce groaned inwardly, trying to push himself to his feet with his unbroken right arm. Jennifer had come back – now, to witness his defeat. Or his death. Even so, he didn’t want her to see him die groveling, and with the last ounce of strength he possessed, he managed to stagger to his feet. Reaching up, he wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, his vision cleared, and he realized he was not imagining it. Jennifer was moving toward him, and an eerie silence was descending over the crowd.

Jenny stifled a scream when she was close enough to see his arm dangling brokenly at his side. She stopped in front of him, and her father’s bellow from the sidelines made her head jerk toward the lance lying at Royce’s feet. “Use it!” he thundered. “Use the lance, Jennifer.”

Royce understood then why she had come; she had come to finish the task her relatives had begun; to do to him what he had done to her brother. Unmoving, he watched her, noting that tears were pouring down her beautiful face as she slowly bent down. But instead of reaching for his lance or her dagger, she took his hand between both of hers and pressed her lips to it. Through his daze of pain and confusion, Royce finally understood that she was kneeling to him, and a groan tore from his chest: “Darling” he said brokenly, tightening his hand, trying to make her stand, “don’t do this…”

But his wife wouldn’t listen. In front of seven thousand onlookers, Jennifer Merrick Westmoreland, countess of Rockbourn, knelt before her husband in a public act of humble obeisance, her face pressed to his hand, her shoulders wrenched with violent sobs.

A Kingdom of Dreams, Judith McNaught (pp 420-421)

The second example comes from The Warlords of the Plains series by Elizabeth Vaughan. In Warprize, Xylara is the daughter of the warrior king, Xyron. When her father dies, her insane half-brother inherits the throne. The kingdom’s fiercest enemies, the Firelanders, have come to overthrow the kingdom. Xylara, a trained healer, begins healing the Firelander prisoners, and gets to know them. She learns their language and some of their customs and her respect for their way of life grows. Lara never expects that Keir of the Cat, the leader of the Firelanders, would sneak into the encampment to check on his warriors, nor did she expect that he would demand her in exchange for peace. Her brother agrees, telling Lara that she will be a slave, a Warprize, in order to ensure peace for her people. Lara, being a loyal servant of the crown goes, assuming that she’ll be treated as a slave and concubine to Keir. But in the Firelander encampment, Lara finds peace and love with the fierce leader of her country’s enemy. In the end, Keir decides he must leave Lara in Xy as the newly ascended leader of the kingdom, while he and his people return to Xy.

The sky was a vibrant orange when I finally heard the thunder of hooves behind me. I didn’t turn, just continued to walk at a steady pace. For a brief moment, I feared that Simus or Other had sent troops after me. But instead, as Simus had predicted, the first of the rear scouts moved past me at a gallop, their horses veering around me. One looked back, and let out a yelp of surprise. He pulled on the reins so hard his horse reared, legs splayed in its effort to stop. The other scout, hearing the noise, pulled his sword, and turned off the road, arcing back to me.

I ignored them and kept walking.

The first scout came up on horseback. “Warprize?” he asked, looking horrified. I looked up to see Tant, the warrior that had been whipped for falling asleep on watch.

The other scout came up, scanning for danger. He glanced at his partner. “That’s the Warprize?” […]

It seemed like hours before there was a commotion ahead of us. A cloud of dust betrayed the horsemen coming hard and fast up the road. My self-appointed guard faded back as Keir came thundering into view, galloping his horse, his scarlet cloak flaring behind him. There were a few more men behind him. I stopped and stood where I was, waiting.

Keir reared his horse to a stop in front of me. The animal towered over me, and I could hear its harsh breathing. I kept my eyes down, on the road.

“What in the name of all the elements do you think you are doing?” Keir thundered.

“Following my Warlord.” I kept my voice steady.

Warprize, Elizabeth Vaughan [pp. 311-312]

In both cases the heroine gives up everything she’s known for love of her hero – the Big Romantic Gesture. The gestures, so enormous that the reader is assured of the enduring love between the couple.

So how about the heroes? I struggled thinking of a hero who made the Big Romantic Gesture.  Then I took to Twitter and was reminded of the actions of Raphael, Archangel of New York in Nalini Singh’s Angel’s Blood. When Uram, an archangel and a member of the Cadre of Ten archangels who rule the world, goes rogue, falling into bloodlust,  the archangels must turn to Hunter Born Elena Devereaux to hunt down the threat to humans, vampires and angels alike. Having lived millennia, he’s lost almost all of his humanity, but when he meets Elena he is captivated. Elena is both terrified and undeniably attracted to Raphael, and due to the extreme danger of her hunt, she is very close proximity to him almost constantly.  But as they get closer, Raphael realizes that he is losing just a bit of his immortality through his attraction to Elena. This loss could jeopardize his rule, but Raphael can’t help himself. He’s never had anyone treat him with anything other than deference, and Elena is anything but deferential.  As Elena and Raphael track the rogue archangel, they fall deeper and deeper in love.

During the final confrontation with Uram, Elena sustains life-threatening wounds.

One of Uram’s last, desperate bolts had hit the building. Raphael knew Elena had to have been on the very edge of the eight-story structure when she’d shot up at Uram. That edge was now gone, but he could feel Elena’s life, feel her dying flame. Elena, answer me.

Quiet, peaceful, a hush of sounds. Then, Stay a little human, won’t you Raphael?

A request that was almost not a sound at all. But it was enough. He followed the mental thread to discover her broken body on the narrow ledge provided by a precariously hanging neon sign. Her back was shattered, her legs twisted in a way that was nothing natural. But she smiled when she saw him. And her hand still held the gun that had saved more lives than anyone would ever know.

He dared not touch her, afraid he’d cause her to slip over the ledge. “You are not to die.”

A slow blink. “Bossy.” It was a sound bubbled through with blood. The voice isn’t working so good. […]

His canines elongated, and a strange, beautiful, golden taste filled his mouth as he felt a tear slide down his face. He was an archangel. He had not cried in over a thousand years.  […]

His heart stopped beating when her voice faded, and he leaned forward, his mouth overwhelmed by the taste of beauty, of life. “I won’t let you die. I had your blood tested. You’re compatible.”

Her lashes struggled to open, failed. But her mental voice, though weak, was adamant. I don’t want to be a vampire. Bloodsucking’s not my thing.

“You must live.” And then he kissed her, feeding that golden taste, that intoxicating blend into her mouth. You must live.

That was when the sign gave away, tearing loose from the building and plunging to the ground in a shattering crash. Elena didn’t fall alone, gathered as she was in Raphael’s arms, his mouth fused with hers. They fell together, his wings close to destroyed, his soul melded to that of a mortal.

If this is death, Guild Hunter, he thought to his mortal as angelfire scored through his boned and touched his heart, then I will see you on the other side.

Angel’s Blood, Nalini Singh [Kindle  location: 4442-4470]

Raphael’s sacrifice, giving up his life as one of the most powerful beings in the world, his rule in the Cadre of Ten, his very immortality, is the very essence of the Big Romantic Gesture. He gives up everything for love.

The Big Romantic Gesture is not a necessary element of a successful romance, in fact, it’s somewhat rare. But when an author successfully writes it, it causes what I call the “big sigh” of a reading experience. For it to be effective the author must build the foundation – both conflict and romance.  The stakes must be raised in order for the gesture to carry the weight of the “ultimate sacrifice”. If the author fails to establish the foundation, they risk the gesture being tell, not show.  When it is successful, it confirms for the reader that the couple’s Happily Ever After is a foregone conclusion.

Ponderings on the Golden Era: Perspectives of a Seasoned Nerd and a Nerdy Novice

Ponderings on the Golden Era: Perspectives of a Seasoned Nerd and...

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Janet: Reading through the comments on the Dear Author Golden Era poll, they seem to reflect the split in the voting between the 1990s and the 2000s. Those who chose the 1990s seem more like Historical Romance readers, while a number of those favoring the current decade have pointed to the online community and the way that has opened up awareness of many more books.

Jaili:   Hm, when I think of the 1990s, I think of category romance novels – from authors such as Sandra Canfield, Anne Stuart, Judith Arnold, Marilyn Pappano, Linda Howard, Jennifer Cruise, Sharon Sala, and many more – and romantic suspense as well as speculative romance (vampire romances, futuristic romances, ghost romances and many more). Historical romances of the 1990s were different from the 2000s, too.

Janet: I’ve read Stuart, Howard, Crusie, and probably others, but most of my reading, I think, has been in historicals of the 90s. But now that I think about it, Howard is very much of the 90s, at least the books I’ve read of hers. Some Stuart books, too, like Ritual Sins.   I think part of it is that there’s just a ton of books to read. I’ve only been reading Romance for about six years, and I’ve managed to get through hundreds of books in that time, and many, many of them are oldies but goodies, but my reading is of books selected for me. Consequently, I have a very positive regard for those decades as judged through some truly outstanding books, from the Laura London Regencies to LaVyrle Spencer’s inaugural Harlequin Temptation, Spring Fancy, to almost all the books of Laura Kinsale and Judith Ivory, as well as the Jennifer Crusie categories.   An embarrassment of genre riches, you might say.

Conversely, my reading of books published in the past six years has been much more “of the moment.” Instead of carefully copying down a list given to me by the friend who got me reading Romance (who is herself a long-time genre reader), I got recommendations from friends and acquaintances, from reader blogs and message boards and even from browsing shelves and online bookstores/publisher sites.

Jaili: Lucky you! At the beginning of my reading career, it was pot luck. At the time there was no internet and there weren’t many romance novels available for sale in my area. I could only get my paws on whatever were available including those from Topaz, Leisure, Tapestry, Mills & Boon (Silhouette included), Onyx, and old Avon. There were no guide or anything like it.

I think I relied on book covers alone. I picked up books by Penelope Neri, Karen Robards, Jude Deveraux, Mary Spencer, Johanna Lindsey and many others this way. (Those original covers were awesome. Today’s covers haven’t a patch on those.) My purchase decisions were heavily tied to what were available and book covers and eventually, authors’ names.

Janet: How do you think the Internet has affected the genre. Not necessarily in terms of making it easier for readers to pick books, but do you think the online community has affected the books being written and published?

Jaili: I think so, yes.   It’s funny because some authors – such as Susan Johnson and Bertrice Small – took historical research rather seriously, but there were quite a few authors who clearly flipped the bird at such an idea. Some readers wrote to the Letters of the Romantic Times magazine to complain about those historical errors, but authors still wrote with a form of editorial freedom. And now? Pfft. Some authors will have to have the guts to keep flipping the bird at the idea of taking historical research seriously.

Actually, there’s another thought rattling around in my clearly empty skull that I’m trying to articulate. I think there is a sense of innocence – or optimism? – in those old historical romances. It feels as if old historical romances were written for authors’ own pleasure, rather than for money and audience.

Janet: Writing for the sake of the book? Or maybe a book for the sake of the writing? Yes, I have an intuitive sense of exactly what you’re talking about, but I can’t really articulate it, either. There does, though, seem to be an awfully strong emphasis on the commercial aspects of genre fiction these days.

Jaili: I can’t tell if it was because those books were more detailed than today’s books that make it feel as if authors were writing for pleasure, or that authors today seem more business-like than authors of the yesteryear were. Perhaps the shortened length of today’s romances may have something to do with it? Detailed books mean leisurely pace, which equals to a sense of luxury or comfort, perhaps.

To be honest, I can’t articulate what I am trying to say well. Perhaps readers of this article will understand what I mean and explain somehow.

Anyroad, I think authors have more pressures than authors in those days because not only they have to work against shorter deadlines and shorter word counts, they have readers breathing down their necks as well as having to resist the temptation of going online.

Janet: I wonder how much pressure authors put on themselves and how much is put on them from editors, publishers, agents, and readers, though. And did publishers offer more freedom in earlier decades and did the lack of reader feedback in electronic forums, for example, encourage more or less diversity in the genre? It feels to me like there’s a lot of subgenre diversity, but maybe not so much diversity within those subgenres. Which is too bad if you’re a reader who doesn’t like a lot of different subgenres of Romance.

Jaili: So true. On the other hand, the internet makes it much easier for readers to express their thanks and gratitude to authors who wrote books they enjoyed. The internet also opens up the once-enigmatic world of romance publishing to readers, thanks to authors and editors’ willingness to share their knowledge. Meanwhile, readers give the feedback, supply the support when it’s needed, and a bit of cheerleading to keep some authors’ stamina up.   It works both ways along with the pluses and minuses.

And the best of all, the online romance community. After ten years, I still think it’s bloody awesome to meet readers and authors from all walks of life. I sometimes wondered what it would be like if the internet was widely available back then. I think if it existed then, it would affect the genre in many ways. How so? I don’t know. It’s fun to speculate, wouldn’t you think?

Janet: Definitely! Personally, I think the Internet is slowing blowing the idea that readers are of a certain type, that they are of a certain age and like certain things. And as much as there still seems to be a collective set of values within the genre, I really think that’s going to change more as the reader community shows itself to be more diverse and more diversely engaged with the genre. And I think that’s really exciting.

As for reading books pubbed in the past six years, since I have been online, I’ve had many more reading ups and downs, although I have some powerful favorites from this decade, from Shana Abe’s The Smoke Thief to Loretta Chase’s first two Carsington books to Meljean Brook’s demon series, Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran’s historicals, Jo Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady, Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, and books present and future from many authors who I think are really coming into their own (Victoria Dahl & Julie Ann Long, for example). I recently started a Jill Shalvis glom, finding the way she draws relationships to be extremely well-nuanced. Roxanne St. Claire’s new Romantic Suspense was a real winner for me. And the upcoming Jo Goodman release is one of my favorites in her multi-decade body of work. I don’t think Lisa Kleypas’s writing has ever been stronger than in her recent contemporary Travis family saga. And then there are many authors (some of whom have upcoming releases) whose books I haven’t even read yet: Carolyn Jewel, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Ann Aguirre, Carrie Lofty, most of Nalini Singh’s Psi series, and many I’m forgetting at the moment (sorry!).

This doesn’t mean that I think the books published today are the same as those published previously. And maybe if I only liked meaty epic historicals I’d be pining for the 90s. But as I said in my shorter books post last week, I’m not convinced that shorter books are of lesser quality, at least not because of the lower word counts. But I wonder if that’s because I’m reading all these books within such a short period of time. Had I started as a teen or even in my 20s, would that change my opinion? Would it be different if I read all the clunkers from every decade, too? I don’t know. Maybe. It seems that the real long-time readers often have strong decade-specific preferences.

Jaili: That’s the thing; the 1990s didn’t have just meaty epic historicals. To me, this type belongs to the 1980s and the 1970s. Historical romances of the 1990s were actually shorter than those from the 1980s and 1970s.

What the 1990s had were similar to today’s historical romances, but different settings – such as Viking, various American settings (Gold Rush, the South, Alaska, Americana, Western and so on), different time periods (Tudors, Medieval, etc.) of different countries (UK, Russia, South America, Australia, etc.) – and different reader expectations.

Readers today, I think, expect characters to have similar sensibilities and values to theirs, whereas readers of the 1990s expected something between the 1980s and the 2000s. Romances of each decade generally reflect the readership’s mentality and attitudes, I think.

Janet: This is an interesting point, and I fear it’s true. In fact, if there’s one thing I wish there was more of in the genre it’s a diversity of cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious values. Religion, especially, outside of Inspy books, would be great, IMO, and I’m not all that religious, lol. But I so loved Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish and Kinsale’s Flowers From the Storm and Samuel’s Bed of Spices that I would love to see more Romances that tackled spirituality and faith issues, especially as they relate to erotic relationships.

And, of course, as someone who has a keen interest in post-colonial issues, I’d love to see more reconsiderations of those older colonial/imperial Romances, or at least of the cultural clashes. Meredith Duran’s first book, Duke of Shadows, took on the India setting, but that part of the book felt choppy to me and it felt like there should have been more of that part of it. Loretta Chase uses Egypt as a setting, but I’d love a deeper look there, too. One of the things I loved most about Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart was the way Stuart had experienced all of these different cultural values and had sort of cobbled together a multi-national, multicultural personality. Even though we didn’t really see beyond England in the novel, the book didn’t feel to me like a colonialist/imperialist gesture. Oh, I’d love more of that kind of thing. Also, more diversity of class/economic position. Still a big taboo, in my opinion, as is race, which, as we know, is terribly marginalized and sentimentalized in the genre, even today.

Jaili: There are so many good books from that period are forgotten today. I can reel off a long list for you to check out. I’m willing to bet that readers who voted for the 1990s have had the same experiences I had: fewer expectations and a willingness to read anything available. I remember buying two romances and when I got home, I was shocked to find one was a time travel romance and the other was a bloody Irish medieval (my least favourite time period). I knew there wouldn’t be any more available until the following month, so I forced myself to read both. Luckily, I enjoyed both.

Nowadays with the internet and its resources, I can be choosy and focus on those I think will appeal to me, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yes, there are many readers’ favourite lists available, which is fantastic for us who have little money and time to spare, but it also makes us less adventurous that would have us losing out on lesser known books published, including those from this decade. It may explain why some readers quickly tire of certain favourite types or premises. Who knows?

Janet:   First of all, I’d love a list!!

Jaili: Heh! OK, will do. I hope readers of this article will share their lists, too.

Janet: Absolutely!

The whole 1990s issue is interesting, because I went through and checked the dates on some of my favorite books. Susan Johnson’s Pure Sin was 1994, Forbidden in 1991. Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star was 1991. Candice Proctor’s Whispers of Heaven, 2001. I tend to associate those books as meatier historicals, but maybe the epic historicals would be stuff like the Sky O’Malley books or The Windflower (1984) or Monson’s Rangoon (1985)?

Jaili: When I think of epic historicals, I think of Forever Amber, Skye O’Malley and Woodiwiss’s famous (and infuriating) Birmingham couple. Come to think of it, I think if these were published today, they would be classified as Women’s Fiction or Historical Fiction.

The Windflower is a different breed, though, because it broke away from the epic historical romance sub-genre, which is why it was highly acclaimed. I think The Windflower was a turning point of the historical romance sub-genre. I’m trying to remember if it was Karen Robards’s Walk After Midnight that turned the romantic suspense sub-genre round on its head. My memory isn’t that reliable, I’m afraid. I do remember it was Marilyn Pappano’s Passion and Suspicion that hooked me on romantic suspense. Oh, let’s not forget Theresa Weir’s contemporary romances. I’d better shut up before I list some more.

Janet: So here’s my question, Jaili, for someone like you who has been reading Romance for much longer than myself: do you think we sentimentalize books in the genre or different periods, or do you think that some decades are just better for Romance novels?

Jaili: Yes and no. I believe some of us – myself included – sentimentalise certain eras of the genre, but books? I don’t think so. For some, these are remembered with affection because they were part of our journey as romance readers.   It doesn’t mean all could stand the test of time. Some may, but not all. This still applies to today. Take Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, for example.

When it was released a couple years ago, it wowed quite a few romance readers, but I recently caught some of those readers saying that after rereading Twilight a couple of years later, it didn’t stand up well. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they still regard Twilight with affection because it gave them that unforgettable moment of time.

Janet: That’s so true, and it might be why I don’t re-read a lot. I don’t want to spoil the happy memory. I’m afraid, for example, if I ever try to re-read Dara Joy’s Rejar, it’ll be all over for that book!

Jaili: Heh! I’m too scared to re-read some of old "ohmygodthisisthebestIreadinyears!’ books, such as some of Sandra Canfield’s fantastic category romances and Megan Chance’s Gilded Age historical romance, The Portrait, which features the hero as a "manic depressive".

On the other hand, some are comfort reads, such as Rene J. Garrod’s Western romantic comedy, Her Heart’s Desire (I suspect the glasses-wearing scholar hero may have something to do with my love for it), and Pamela Morsi’s Americana romances, such as Courting Miss Hattie and Runabout.

In fairness, I think some forget that each decade has its share of trends. The 1990s were crammed with Medieval & Viking romances, time travel romances, psychic heroines in romantic suspense, Western romances, Native American romances and a couple of other trends. Some of us were thoroughly sick of those, just like how some of us are sick of Regency and British-setting romances today.

But since you have quite a few old historical romances, have you read any category, contemporary and paranormal/speculative romances from that era as well?

Janet: Yes, at least to some of those. I’ve read all of the Tom and Sharon Curtis books, both as Laura London and Robin James. I’ve read some Charlotte Lamb books, all of the Crusie categories except for Glitter (is that the right title?), some old LaVyrle Spencer, oh! and a bunch of Mary Balogh categories (which I prefer to her single titles, actually). And Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Anne Stuart’s Ritual Sins, some of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s contemps (Dream a Little Dream is my favorite, I think), Linda Howard’s After the Night, Now You See Her, Dream Man, Shades of Twilght, as well as the whole Kell Sabin series (from Midnight Rainbow to White Lies), and much more that I can’t even remember right now.

Jaili: Kathleen Gilles Seidel! Her books are fantastic. Well worth reading. Same for Sarah Bird’s The Boyfriend School, Marilyn Pappano and other authors I mentioned at the start. I think it’d be good for romance readers to have a look around in used bookshops because there are many forgotten gems waiting to be found.